The cry of Jehad is heard again and again and from many different quarters.
But what was the Jehad to which God and His Prophet invited Muslims? And what is the Jehad to which we are invited today?
The Jehad to which God invites us in the Holy Quran is described in the verse:
'So obey not the disbelievers and strive by means of it [i.e., the Quran] a great striving.' (Al-Furqan, 53)
The highest Jehad, therefore, is Jehad with the help of the Quran.
Is it such a Jehad to which Muslims are invited today? How many are there who turn out to strive against disbelievers with only the Quran in their hands?
Are Islam and the Quran so utterly devoid of inherent merit and attractiveness? If Islam and the Quran cannot attract people today by their intrinsic beauty, what evidence have we for the truth of Islam?
Human speech can change hearts. Can the speech of God change no hearts?
Can it bring about no change in the world except with the help of the sword? Long human experience shows that the sword cannot effect a change of heart, and, according to Islam, it is a sin to try and convert a people through fear or favor. Has not God clearly said in the Holy Quran:
'When the hypocrites come to thee, they say: "We bear witness that thou art indeed the Messenger of Allah." And Allah knows that thou art indeed His Messenger, but Allah bears witness that the hypocrites are most surely liars.' (Al-Munafiqun, 2)
Here is a description of the hypocritical believers. If it were correct to spread Islam by the sword, then would it be meet or necessary to describe in this way those who had accepted Islam outwardly but were inwardly unbelievers still?
If it were correct to convert people to Islam by force, then even such converts as did not believe in their hearts would have been true converts, according to the Holy Quran.
Nobody can hope to win sincere converts by the sword. It is wrong, therefore, to think that Islam teaches the use of the sword for the conversion of non-Muslims.
On the other hand, Islam is the first religion which lays down the principle of freedom in religious matters in clear and unambiguous terms. The teaching of Islam is:
'There shall be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong.' (Al-Baqarah, 257)
According to Islam, every human individual is free to believe or not to believe. He is free to follow reason. Islam also teaches:
'And fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors.' (Al-Baqarah, 191)
Here the law of religious wars is laid down clearly.
A religious war is to be waged against those who make war on Muslims because of religion; who seek by force to convert Muslims. Even in such a war Islam forbids the transgression of limits.
If non-Muslims seeking to convert Muslims by force withdraw from such an attempt, then Muslims must stop fighting. In the face of such a teaching, nobody can say that Islam teaches the waging of war for its expansion.
If Islam sanctions war, it is not in order to destroy or harm any religion. It is to promote religious freedom, to protect places of religious worship. It is clearly laid down in the Holy Quran:
'Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged. And Allah indeed has power to help those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only for saying "Our Lord is Allah." And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques would have been pulled down wherein the name of Allah is oft remembered. And Allah will surely help him who helps Allah. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty.' (Al-Hajj 40-1)
This passage from the Holy Quran leaves no doubt whatever that a religious war is not permitted by Islam unless it is against a people who force another people to abjure their religion; unless, for instance, Muslims are forced to abjure Islam. A religious war may be justified when there is interference in religion. But even when permitted, a religious war is not intended to force a people to give up their faith, nor is its purpose to desecrate or destroy places of worship, or to kill.
The purpose of religious wars is to protect religion, to protect every religion, and to save from disgrace and destruction all places of worship, irrespective of the denomination to which they belong. Only such a religious war is permitted by Islam.
Islam is a witness of other religions and their protector. Islam is no party to violence or cruelty or un freedom.
In short, the Jehad sanctioned by Islam is to make war against a people who prevent others by force from accepting Islam, or who wish to force people to deny Islam. It may be made against a people who kill others because of Islam.
Only against such a people is the making of war permissible in Islam. Against any other people, Jehad is wrong and contrary to Islam. War not sanctioned by these conditions may be a political war, a war between country and country or people and people. It may be a war between two Muslim peoples. But it will not be a religious war.
The current view of Jehad, which is nothing but violence and lawlessness, has been borrowed by Muslims from others. There is no sanction for it in Islam. It is not even known in Islam.
Strange as it may seem, the responsibility for the spread of this view among Muslims lies with Christians, who are loudest in their condemnation of Islam for its supposed teaching of Jehad.
In the Middle Ages, religious wars were the order of the day. The whole of Europe took part in them. Christian warriors and crusaders attacked the borders of Muslim countries in the same way as semi-independent trans-border tribesmen attack the border of India.
At the same time they attacked those European peoples who were holding back from Christianity. Christians who took part in these wars did so to earn the pleasure of God. It seems that, under the violent and unprovoked attacks of Christians, Muslims lost their balance. Following the example of Christians, they too started attacking the borders of other peoples and countries. They forgot the teaching of their own religion.
So completely do they seem to have assimilated the Christian example that Christians themselves have started raising objections. In spite of the fact that objections now come from Christians Muslims fail to see through the Christian game.
All over the world today this objection is directed against Islam. Everywhere it is used as a weapon against Islam; but Muslims do not realize it.
Unwittingly they continue to supply the enemies of Islam with texts and arguments to use against Islam. The enemy is able to attack Islam with weapons forged by Muslims. The wars which they call Jehad have not helped Islam. They have only done it harm. Muslims have lost sight of the moral conditions of victory.
Victory comes not from weapons or numbers, but from skill, organization, education, equipment, morale and the goodwill of other nations. A very small nation can sometimes score a victory over a big nation, because the smaller nation happens to have the moral conditions of victory on its side.
Without these conditions the largest armies may prove useless. It would have been infinitely better had Muslims sought their prosperity not in misconceived Jehad, but in the virtues and skills which make for the success of nations.
By subscribing to a misconceived Jehad they defame Islam and harm their interests. If a nation indulges in political warfare in the guise of religion, it only drives other nations into united hostility against it. The other nations begin to feel insecure. When international conflicts arrest imulated by religious differences, the state with the largest amount of goodwill for others is not immune from attack by an external enemy.
When states are divided over religion, each is afraid of the others. Good behavior and goodwill are then of no avail. These virtues may avert a political war but not religious war. Conclusion
In short, we do not deny but affirm, the importance of Jehad. We deny only a wrong interpretation of it, which has done incalculable harm to Islam.
The future of Muslims, in our view, depends on how far they succeed in understanding the true meaning of Jehad.
If they are able to realize that the best form of Jehad is Jehad with the Quran (25:53), and not Jehad with the sword, if they recognize that difference of religion provides no sanction for violence against the lives or property or honor of others (Quran, 4:91, 2:191, 60:90), their minds and outlook will undergo a wholesome change, a change which will take them nearer to the right path.
Then they will be acting on a verse of the Holy Quran which says:
'And it is not righteousness that you come into houses by the backs thereof; but truly righteous is he who fears Allah. And you should come into houses by the doors thereof and fear Allah that you may prosper.' (Al-Baqarah, 190)
Then will they go from success to success.